Open line and video headlines; Also, lawsuit against state board executive and a religious claim for a beard in prison | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Open line and video headlines; Also, lawsuit against state board executive and a religious claim for a beard in prison

Posted By on Thu, Sep 4, 2014 at 3:22 PM

It's Thursday. The line is open. And here is the video news summary. Also:

* MCDANIEL SUES: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has sued Catherine Gray, former executive director of the Arkansas Fire Protection Licensing Board, for improper use of a state credit card and improper expense reimbursements. McDaniel said Gray charged more than $40,000 to the card over two years, until March 5, when it was suspended by the state procurement office on suspicion of improper use.

The suit claims $15,426 in unauthorized purchaes of gift cards, utility bills, car repairs, medication, alcohol, cigarettes, dog food, pet supplies, clothing, movies, groceries and toiletries. The suit seeks restitution. Gary also submitted requires for $6,680 in expense reimbursements and McDaniel said an investigation found $4,599 worth had insufficient documentation. The State Police is also investigating. 

GREGORY HOLT: Claims religious exemption for beard in prison.
  • GREGORY HOLT: Claims religious exemption for beard in prison.
* BEARDS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: Here's a belated link to a New York Times article about a case heading to the U.S. Supreme Court on whether prison officials can prohibit Muslims from having beards, in keeping with their faith. All but seven southern states, including Arkansas, allow beards. The case was brought by an Arkansas inmate, Gregory Holt, serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery. It's been reported here before, but this story reports on the discovery of false testimony by the head of the Arkansas prison system in the record sent to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arkansas claims security concerns. They claim contraband can be hidden in beards. They acknowledge other places — shoes, clothing, body orifices — can be used as hiding places, too. A magistrate, district judge and appellate court have ruled that Arkansas prison are entitled to deference in the case, though at least one of the judges expressed some doubts about the rationale. In the course of the case, Correction Department boss Ray Hobbs apparently failed to tell the truth to the court. He claimed an inmate from a county jail had concealed a razor blade in his beard and used it to commit suicide. Actually:

An inmate named Steven Oldham did kill himself with a razor on Aug. 8, 2013, in Malvern, Ark. But he did so, according to a sworn statement from the coroner, by using “an orange plastic disposable razor” that had been issued to him by prison authorities so he could shave his beard.

Douglas Laycock, one of Mr. Holt’s lawyers, said Supreme Court briefs should meet a higher standard of factual accuracy. “This kind of flat misrepresentation to the court, however it happened,” he said, “doesn’t happen very often.”

A reply brief from Mr. Holt pointed out the error, and lawyers from the state attorney general’s office promptly wrote a letter to the court disavowing their earlier account of the incident. “The testimony of Director Hobbs” concerning Mr. Oldham, they wrote to the Supreme Court, “was erroneous in stating that the razor was concealed in a beard.”

Through a spokesman, Mr. Hobbs said he “does not wish to offer comments” about how he came to give false testimony. A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, which represents Mr. Hobbs in the Supreme Court, declined to elaborate on the office’s letter to the justices.

Mr. Laycock said the disavowal in the letter was significant. “This was their only example,” he said.

In an interim order, the Supreme Court has allowed Holt to grow a short beard. Maybe they'll decide prisoners, as well as corporations, have religious freedom.

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